VMLP 23: Minolta AF 28-85mm 3.5-4.5—Not Famous, But Good

I had heard good things about the AF 28-85mm 3.5-4.5 lens. However, I never set out to buy one—at least not to use. I purchased an “XX” lens from Goodwill but immediately put it on the shelf with the other hard-to-find “XX” items. Perhaps I would have been tempted to use it, except I already had a 28-105mm lens, and after trying it, I was so taken by it that I never considered disturbing the “XX” lens. Serendipity again struck when I bid on a Maxxum 7000 set purely for the 50mm 1.4 it contained, and a very nice 28-85mm came with it. This 28-85mm, I could take out for a stroll.

February here can be cold or pleasantly mild. The day I chose to try out the 28-85mm was a sunny, gently warm day with temps in the mid-60s—good walking weather. Attached to my newly-acquired 600si loaded with expired Fuji 100, I took it across town for a stroll. Black and white images are the final frames of a roll of Ilford XP2.

 

 

Background
Released in 1985, the 28-85mm was one of the group of autofocus lenses released with the advent of the revolutionary Maxxum 7000. Oddly, one hears very little about the 28-85mm while the 35-70mm, 70-210mm (Beercan), and the 35-105mm are widely praised. A second version was released a few years later, and that one is rarely mentioned and seems to be scarce in general. In all the time I’ve spent sifting through eBay, I have never seen the second version.

Technical Specs
The minimum focus distance (MFD) is about 31 inches (800mm), which is not bad compared to other lenses in the group. A macro switch allows one to get within about 10 inches, which is not bad. The filter thread is 55mm, standard for many Minolta lenses. The filter ring rotates while focusing but not zooming.

This is a sturdy metal lens, well-built and solid. It weighs a little more than 17 ounces, but the weight wasn’t noticeable since it balanced so well on the 600si. Focusing speed was good, and there was no hunting, even shooting in lower light indoors. I used the lens without a hood, and flare was not an issue; however, I rarely shoot into the sun. The smallest aperture is f22. This is a compact lens, about a little less than 3 x 3.5 inches, so it feels conformable to carry and use.

Buying
These lenses show up quite often on eBay and are usually inexpensive, ranging from mid-teens to 40.00 (US) or so. They do not seem to be in high demand. Unlike the 70-210 Beercan or 35-70mm f4, the 28-85mm does not appear frequently in sets, so if you want one, it will usually require a standalone purchase. As mentioned earlier, I have never seen the later RS version for sale (or didn’t recognize it). No matter, the original is built like a tank, and I prefer its appearance.

Images
Black and white images are XP2 exposed at box speed using the Maxxum 600si. Color images are Fuji CN 100 (expired 2019). All images were developed using CineStill 2-Step color kit and scanned with Epson v600 using Epson Scan software. Sharpness tests were done at FL 28mm (f3.5 and f8) and 85mm (f4.5 and f8).

Petite

Impressions
I like this lens. It locks on targets quickly, and I never got a single misfocus. The weight and size are good, and it balanced well on the 600si. Walking around with the combo, the 28-85mm never became tiresome or a burden. Build quality is among the best, like the rest of its 1985 classmates.

Looking at the images, I have no significant complaints. Wide-open at f3.5, images are a little soft, as seen with the red camellias (but keep in mind red flowers can be deceiving). However, when stopped down, the lens is sharp in the center and shows good contrast and color. Bokeh is satisfactory, but I am not a bokeh fanatic.

Would I recommend the lens??? Not resoundingly—but not because it isn’t a decent lens. I withhold a resounding endorsement because the 35-70mm f4 and 28-105mm (original or RS) are, in my opinion, somewhat better lenses in terms of image quality and convenience. Both are sharper wide-open, the 35-70mm is tiny with a constant aperture, and the 28-105mm has more range. While the 35-70mm f4 is easy to find, the 28-105mm (non-xi) shows up relatively rarely on eBay. The 28-105mm (non-xi) version shows up only every few months. Now, keep in mind that I am being picky. Shooting the 28-85mm stopped down to f5.6 will yield sharp, contrasty images—as the sharpness tests show.

All things considered, if the only one of the three you can find or afford is the 28-85mm 3.5-4.5, then buy it for 30.00 (US) or less and enjoy the experience. However, if the 35-70mm f4 or 28-105mm 3.5-4.5 are available and suit your needs, grab one of them instead. I have all three, and the 28-105mm is the one that stays in my bag.

2 Comments

  1. I have a couple of the 1985 versions and an RS. I prefer the RS,its sharper, snappier and all round better – but variation like that is common enough with any trio of lenses this old so I’m not convinced the RS is that much better per se, just that mine is.

    I prefer the range to the 35-105 and it doesn’t distort as much, the 35-70 is a lovely little lens, but the range is limiting, The 28-105 (I have all three versions and it’s a little annoying that the xi is the best) can be nice, but I find myself using the 24-105 for the extra width. And at the end of the day the Minolta zoom I use most to cover this sort of range is the 28-75/2.8 D – but the 28-85 RS ustill gets plenty of use. One day I’ll get a 28-70/2.8 G.

    1. Author

      I like the 28m wide end as well, and for the same reasons. Interestingly, I find the non-xi 28-105mm versions better. In the process of buying cameras, I have amassed a few copies of each mid-range zoom. I don’t dare buy the 28-75mm or 28-70mm G, until I have found new homes for all the others.

      I have a two copies of the 35-105mm. One has horrible pincushion distortion at every focal length, while the other has none that I can easily detect. Both are very sharp. My 28-85mm are all from the first generation, so I can’t speak of the later models.

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